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Is there any scientific proof that riding bareback is bad for your horse's back?

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  • Is there any scientific proof that riding bareback is bad for your horse's back?

    I went everywhere bareback as a kid. I still hate saddles. My mare just got approved for light riding, so I hopped on bareback. Before she got hurt (stifle surgery)* I rode her around the same way. She doesn't seem sore afterwards. We go out for maybe 30 mins or so. If it were a really long ride, I'd probably put a saddle on, just because I'm old and I don't bounce anymore, I splat. My friend was saying I was going to hurt her back riding her bareback. I've heard that before, but never really seen a horse get sore from that.

    *She was in a nasty wreck before I got her, she's got scars all over. So the meniscus thing could be from that or who knows. she never works hard. It's not from me riding her bareback. lol

  • #2
    Pure physics, you distribute the rider's weight the more saddle surface you have under you.
    Stirrups even help distribute weight more.

    Bareback, all your weight is on mostly two small spots.
    Ok on some backs and with lighter riders and shorter rides, not so much the heavier the rider and longer or more often you ride.

    Oc course, a good, light, very well balanced rider also count, with or without saddle.

    Comment


    • #3
      I don't ride with my weight on '"two small spots." I use my muscles... to distribute my weight over my thighs and my decently sized butt. Over as much of "the suede on a full seat pair of breeches" (down to my knees) as possible.

      I am 6'1" and there is a bit more of me to love than I'd prefer... I also put my bareback pad on horses from 15.3hh to 17.2hh.

      And riding two point in an english saddle with all your weight in the stirrups DOES put all the weight on two small spots. Most notably, it drives the 'points' of the saddle into the area directly behind the shoulder blades.

      I have known more than one very stiff horse who freed up tremendously when a treed saddle was replaced with something more flexible.
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      • #4
        One thing I've noticed about riding bareback is that the rider cannot commit some pretty common "sins" of riding. Ones that are very easy to commit in a saddle. For instance, bracing on the stirrups, and banging all over the cantle will make a horse very sore, very fast. You can't do that bareback.
        I also distribute weight over a large band of my body when riding bareback...I think it's pretty hard to ride poorly enough to do any more damage than a poor rider can do in a saddle...there is nothing to brace on: either you go "with " the horse or you slide off.

        Comment


        • #5
          i don't ride bareback much because I have a bony irish arse. My car seats, work chairs, etc all have two permanent, deep divots where my seat bones dig in. I think I have a balanced seat--feel very secure bareback--and I try for equal weight all along my thighs. But I picture my deformed car seats and know that this is what my horse experiencing. I'd have to clamp my thighs (that's what she said) to keep my pointy seatbones up off her back, which would shut her down.
          So, while the leg strength and balance reinforcement is a great benefit of bareback riding, I do think it's at my horse's expense so I don't do it other than maybe a lazy walk around the property.

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          • #6
            In modest amounts it's not (all else being equal). But saddles with rigid trees were invented for a reason. Bluey has given you the biggest reason.

            G.
            Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão

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            • #7
              Depending on the conformation of you and the horse, I think it's fine. If you're on an appropriate sized mount and you're a soft balanced rider then I don't see a problem at all. I ride my gelding bareback all the time. We love it
              Fils Du Reverdy (Revy)- 1993 Selle Francais Gelding
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              • #8
                Yes, there is scientific proof.

                When archeologists studied the "evolution" of human and equine interaction they could clearly see when basic frame saddles were invented by the reductions in bony changes/damage to the horses backs. I would have to look up the damages they saw if you were interested. (it is in a book, not online)

                Now of course these horses may have been worked harder than the current bareback mount, but if skeletal changes occurred, and reduced by very basic frame saddles, it indicates to me that there is a significant benefit to saddles.
                Freeing worms from cans everywhere!

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                • #9
                  I hurt my horse's back as a teen by riding bareback too much. And he wasn't sore in the entire area my fat butt and thighs touched, he was sore exactly where my seat bones went. At the time I also had a green mare I rode all over hell's half acre - with a saddle so I could survive her spooks - and her back never had a single issue.

                  Proof enough for me.

                  I think very light riders can get away with more, but since then I keep the bareback rides short and infrequent.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I rode bareback as a kid, because I didn't have a saddle.
                    I also was always very small and into my 20's still weighed 100 lbs and was a very limber gymnast, so the impact was minimal.
                    I started using a saddle as a 12 year old, in the riding school and also have never been that comfortable in a saddle, compared with bareback, but definitely more steady with a saddle when being active, not just cruising around.

                    The stirrups help distribute the rider's weight and rarely is all our weight on them, even when standing in them.
                    The whole weight is not only on the stirrups, but on our whole leg touching the saddle here and there and our joints taking some of the weight also, the stirrup just one more point to balance with.

                    One exception is when we mount and that, if you jump and swing around, also takes some of our weight off that one stirrup.
                    That is one reason it is good advice to use a mounting aid when possible, to keep any torque forces on the horse's back the saddle can apply when twisted to mount.

                    All those are small details that you can get by ignoring time and again, with some horses, but you need to watch to be sure whatever you do, however you do, is not bothering or worse, hurting your horse.

                    Our riding school spent part of the first lesson for beginners on saddling, tack and getting on and off ... a barrel horse with a head and bridle.
                    That saved our school horse's backs from uneducated plunkins and twisting around and was a good way to teach a gentle but effective hand on the reins.

                    Then they went on the longe line for some more, if indicated, on a vaulting pad and surcingle, if not right for that student, with a saddle.
                    Some beginners we could turn loose the first ride, some later.

                    As human athletes, we work at every little detail being just right, down to the athletic shoes we use.
                    If we pay the same attention to our horses, all of them, they will work for us that much more happily.
                    Watch there is not a crooked browband pulling on a horse's ear, a side cheek hitting the eye and such counts.
                    Explain why that is important, common sense is not so common.

                    Every little detail counts, being aware when riding bareback how the horse's back is faring one more of those.

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                    • #11
                      I don't know about the HORSE'S back, but on a spiney, shark-finned TB *I* am a lot more comfortable with a saddle!
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                      • #12
                        There was a study reported in a recent Equus that showed the pressure points, and bareback does put more weight on less area. But, I think what you're doing is fine.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by CHT View Post
                          Yes, there is scientific proof.

                          When archeologists studied the "evolution" of human and equine interaction they could clearly see when basic frame saddles were invented by the reductions in bony changes/damage to the horses backs. I would have to look up the damages they saw if you were interested. (it is in a book, not online)

                          Now of course these horses may have been worked harder than the current bareback mount, but if skeletal changes occurred, and reduced by very basic frame saddles, it indicates to me that there is a significant benefit to saddles.
                          What is the book title? Sounds like an interesting read!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            For the normal riding the average rider does, it is a myth you can hurt a horse's back (IMHO). It improves a rider's balance and strength and makes a better rider who can go with the horse's motion. Anyway, it is easy enough to tell if the back is sore.
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                            • #15
                              Our owner is well padded and we are well padded. No one gets sore in our horse group from riding bareback. Our owner rode her horses bareback all of her life. Of course those horses too were well padded, and that is one feature that our owner has always had herself.

                              Now some of our owner's friends have boney rear ends. So they might hurt their horse's backs.

                              Comment

                              • Original Poster

                                #16
                                Bluey,
                                That's how I started too. No saddle. When we did get one, nobody knew how to put it on. Lol I rode bareback from age 7 to 16 when my horse was sold. Now riding in a saddle just feels weird. I feel like I'm sitting in one of those cheap plastic chairs on top of my horse. Can't feel a thing.

                                Anyway, I'm old now and don't weigh 100 lbs anymore, so I do have a saddle. I use it if we're going on a long or unfamiliar trail. But otherwise I prefer bareback, which is probably why my rides are all on short, familiar trails. Lol well, my girl is a packer QH and it really takes something special to spook her. Her trot is super smooth, not that I trot her much, esp now. But when she's well I probably will and see how it goes. She's moving a lot better since the surgery. I doubt I can canter bareback anymore, but who knows. I love it.

                                I even hopped on the baby (he's 3) bareback for just a minute. He was like, wha--? But he was cool about it. We're just starting him.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  I call that feeling riding with a saddle the "bump in the log" feeling, there in my English saddle, much worse in any western one.

                                  For many years, I started colts bareback the first few rides and by the time I put a saddle on them, it was a complete non-event for them, never had one act up.
                                  I used to say that bareback, I could get off a colt that wanted to act up faster than they could buck me off.
                                  Not that I needed to, but that is the feeling I had.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    I think this depends on the horse/rider combo and what they do.

                                    A few things to consider:
                                    1-An ill fitted saddle will eventually cause back soreness no matter who sits in it.

                                    2- A large, unbalanced rider who rides in a saddle will probably feel more secure, and will therefore do a lot more riding which may eventually make the horse back sore. If you stick that same large, unbalanced rider on bareback--they probably won't do much because they will flop off the side.

                                    3- Horse and human conformation have a lot to do with this. Bony butts and shark fins?? eeks!!

                                    3- A shark fin wither is not comfortable to ride bareback for any horse or human.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Vet J. 2013 Jan;195(1):48-52. doi: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2012.06.002. Epub 2012 Jul 15.

                                      Forces and pressures on the horse's back during bareback riding.

                                      Clayton HM, Belock B, Lavagnino M, Kaiser LJ.


                                      Source

                                      McPhail Equine Performance Center, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, D202 Veterinary Medical Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA. claytonh@cvm.msu.edu


                                      Abstract


                                      The objectives of this study were to measure forces and pressure profiles when riding with a conventional saddle compared to bareback riding. An electronic pressure mat was used to compare contact area, mean total force and pressure variables for one rider riding seven horses at sitting trot with a conventional saddle or bareback. The use of a saddle was associated with a larger contact area and higher mean total force compared with the bareback condition. Mass normalized mean total force for bareback riding was lower than expected based on the rider's body mass, suggesting that shear forces exerted by the rider's thighs were not being registered by the pressure mat. In spite of the lower total force, the bareback condition was associated with higher average pressure, higher maximal pressure and larger area with mean pressure >11 kPa. Focal pressure concentrations were present beneath the rider's ischial tuberosities in the area of the horse's epaxial muscles when riding bareback but not when using a saddle. It was concluded that bareback riding was associated with focal pressure concentrations that may increase the risk of pressure-induced injury to the horse's epaxial musculature. The findings also emphasized that researchers should remain cognizant of shear forces, which may not be registered by the pressure mat, but may contribute to the effects of riding on the horse's back.

                                      Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.




                                      PMID: 22796121 [PubMed - in process]

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                                      • #20
                                        these are interesting too, not really what you'd expect:


                                        Vet J. 2010 Apr;184(1):56-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2009.04.007. Epub 2009 May 9.

                                        A comparison of forces acting on the horse's back and the stability of the rider's seat in different positions at the trot.

                                        Peham C, Kotschwar AB, Borkenhagen B, Kuhnke S, Molsner J, Baltacis A.


                                        Source

                                        Movement Science Group Vienna, Clinical Department for Companion Animals and Horses, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria. Christian.Peham@vu-wien.ac.at


                                        Abstract


                                        The aim of the study was to compare the stability of the rider as well as the forces acting on a horse's back with different seating positions at the trot (sitting trot, rising trot and two-point seat). The same experienced rider was mounted on 10 sound horses trotting on a treadmill. The kinetic data were recorded with an electronic pressure mat, placed under a well-fitting dressage saddle with no saddle pad. The rider used three different seating positions, each for 20 s. Right forelimb motion was used to synchronise the pressure data with the stride cycles. To determine the rider's stability, the movement of the centre of pressure (COP) along the transverse (X) and longitudinal (Y) axes was calculated. The force was taken as the sum of all segments of the pressure pad multiplied by the area of the pressure pad. The maximum force and the X- and Y-deviations were evaluated using ANOVA for repeated measures with a Bonferroni Post hoc test. The stability of the rider in the Y-direction was significantly highest in the two-point seat, followed by the rising trot and the sitting trot, respectively. In the X-direction, there was no significant difference between the three positions. The significantly highest load on the horse's back was at the sitting trot (2112 N), followed by the rising trot (2056 N) and the two-point seat (1688 N). The rider was most stable in the two-point seat while transferring the lowest load on the horse's back. The rising trot was found to be more stable and less stressful for the horse's back compared to the sitting trot.

                                        Copyright 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.







                                        Equine Vet J Suppl. 2010 Nov;(38):630-6. doi: 10.1111/j.2042-3306.2010.00237.x.

                                        Saddle pressure patterns of three different training saddles (normal tree, flexible tree, treeless) in Thoroughbred racehorses at trot and gallop.

                                        Latif SN, Von Peinen K, Wiestner T, Bitschnau C, Renk B, Weishaupt MA.


                                        Source

                                        Equine Department, Sports Medicine Section, Vetsuisse Faculty University of Zurich, Switzerland. selmalatif@vetcheck.ch


                                        Abstract


                                        REASONS FOR PERFORMING STUDY:

                                        To a large extent the success of a racehorse depends on effective and health preserving training methods. An important issue is the prevention of back pain. The influence of different types of training saddles (normal tree: S(A), treeless: S(B), flexible tree: S(C)) on the saddle pressure patterns in racehorses have not previously been investigated. It is commonly assumed that S(A) limits the motion of the back especially in the lower thoracic region during gallop. Hypothesis: S(A) produces higher pressures in the caudal part of the saddle at trot (rising trot), canter and gallop (both in a jockey seat) compared to S(B) and S(C).

                                        METHODS:

                                        Saddle pressures were measured in 8 racehorses ridden on a training track at trot (3.5 m/s), canter (6.4 m/s) and gallop (12.6 m/s). Each horse performed the protocol with each saddle. To analyse the pressure distribution over the horse's back the pressure picture was divided into thirds (TD(front), TD(mid), TD(hind)). The stride-mean loaded areas, forces and mean and peak pressures were determined.

                                        RESULTS:

                                        At canter and gallop, all 3 saddles were mainly loaded in TD(front) (>80% of the rider's weight), with a decreasing gradient to TD(mid) and TD(hind) (<3%), which was least pronounced in S(C). At trot, the load was shifted towards TD(mid) and TD(hind) (10-15%, each). High peak pressures occurred in TD(front) at canter and gallop and in TD(hind) at trot.

                                        CONCLUSIONS:

                                        The type of tree had no influence on the pressure picture of the caudal third at gallop. The high peak pressures observed in TD(hind) at trot in all saddles may limit the activity of the horse's back, which is of particular importance since trot is an integral part of the daily work.

                                        © 2010 EVJ Ltd.

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